Mortensen shows off gifts in ‘Cap­tain’

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - MOVIES - By Ann Hornaday Wash­ing­ton Post

“Cap­tain Fan­tas­tic” opens with a mag­nif­i­cent aerial shot of the tree­tops of the Pa­cific North­west, a ver­dant, at­mo­spheric pre­lude to the sen­sory plunge about to take place.

In the next scene, we’re on the ground, ob­serv­ing a young deer war­ily mak­ing its way through the fo­liage; it’s be­ing qui­etly ob­served by a young man who, within moments, will have cap­tured the an­i­mal and swiftly, solemnly slit its throat. He is then joined by his five broth­ers and sis­ters who, like him, have slathered their faces in thick, tar­like mud.

These young sav­ages aren’t the feral crea­tures of a pre­his­toric era. Rather, they’re the sons and daugh­ters of Ben (Viggo Mortensen), the prin­ci­pled, in­de­pen­dent non­con­formist who turns out to be the film’s ti­tle char­ac­ter.


His hand­some blond fea­tures cam­ou­flaged be­hind a bushy beard, Ben and his wife, Les­lie (Trin Miller), have been rus­ti­cat­ing in the drip­ping woods with his six kids since the birth of their now-teenage son Bode­van (Ge­orge Mackay), whose slaugh­ter of the deer is part of a prim­i­tive com­ing-of-age rit­ual. With Les­lie in the hospi­tal, Ge­orge now over­sees a free-range brood of bright, cu­ri­ous, phys­i­cally brave kids who are as com­fort­able with a bon­ing knife as they are read­ing “Mid­dle­march” while wear­ing a gas mask.

“Cap­tain Fan­tas­tic” joins a small canon of films ded­i­cated to Amer­i­can offthe-grid­ders, from Sean Penn’s mas­ter­ful “Into the Wild” to Re­becca Miller’s “The Bal­lad of Jack and Rose.”

Direc­tor Matt Ross de­liv­ers a nu­anced, lived-in, fre­quently very amus­ing con­tri­bu­tion to an oeu­vre that, at a time of dis­con­tent with the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sta­tus quo, feels per­fect both in its tim­ing and in its af­fec­tion­ately skep­ti­cal tone. Just as valu­able, he has pro­vided a su­perb show­case for Mortensen’s par­tic­u­lar gifts as an ac­tor of ex­cep­tional phys­i­cal beauty and sen­si­tiv­ity.

“Cap­tain Fan­tas­tic” fal­ters just a bit as it moves to­ward an end­ing that the film­maker can’t seem to tighten up. It goes mushy just where a bit of Ben’s own ruth­less­ness would have been wel­come. But even with that hiccup, “Cap­tain Fan­tas­tic” leaves view­ers with the cheer­ing, deeply af­fect­ing im­age of a dad whose su­per­pow­ers lie in sim­ply do­ing the best that he can.

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